Tag Archives: By-elections

South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

Former presidential candidate Representative Ahn Cheol-soo announced his departure from the NPAD on Sunday, December 13, 2015, ending a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that he co-chaired when it was officially launched in April 2014. The NPAD has had its share of problems, failing to fill the role as a viable opposition expected by members and supporters. Still, Ahn’s departure is a significant blow: it bares open the fractures within the alliance that the leadership has ineffectually tried to reconcile. Meanwhile, with about four months till the general elections in April 2016, the fragmented opposition is likely to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party, as the following account shows.

The first signs of trouble in the opposition alliance surfaced soon after its founding, on the issue of party-nomination reforms which the NPAD had pledged to observe for the June 2014 by-elections. Closed-door party-nominations have been blamed for feeding corruption, public disapprobation, and distrust; consequently, the NPAD’s initial resolve on reforming the process promised to bring “new” politics to challenge the predominant politicking-as-usual. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates. In the face of the growing disadvantage, NPAD members challenged the reform while old-timers such as Gwangju mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party. In response to the open rift, voters handed the by-elections to the Saenuri Party, giving the party 11 seats but only four to the NPAD. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing and a major leadership change was underway.[1]

The leadership change seemed completed at the party convention in February 2015, with 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in installed at the helm. At the same time, however, the contest laid bare the three major factions in the alliance: (1) Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president; (2) Rep Park Jie-won, a leader of the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner; and (3) Rep Lee In-young, a leader of the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors of the authoritarian regime. Moon’s successful election did little to stem the party infighting. As a result, notwithstanding poor approvals for the president and the ruling party, the NPAD managed to snatch defeat from sure victory (again), losing all four seats in liberal strongholds in the April 29, 2015 by-elections, with three going to Saenuri and one to NPAD-turned-independent candidate, Chun Jung-bae.[2]

Since the 2015 by-election routing, the NPAD has openly feuded over responsibilities for the results. Ahn is not the first to bolt the party following the rising hostilities in the party, but his standing in the party is likely to induce others to follow suit. Thus, Ahn’s confidant and chief-of-staff, Rep. Moon Byung-ho, is expected to announce his departure by mid-December, and Moon predicts between 20 and 30 current NPAD members will join Ahn to create a new party. If Ahn and his allies manage to pool at least 20 seats in the legislature, Assembly rules means that it will be entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges.

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[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey vol 55 no 1: 132-141

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?”

 

 

South Korea – By-elections 2015: what lessons for the NPAD?

South Korea held by-elections to four seats on April 29, 2015. The lopsided results – the ruling Saenuri party won three of the four seats, while an independent formerly associated with the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) won the remaining seat – are resounding defeats for the opposition NPAD for several reasons discussed below. With these by-election wins, the ruling party holds 160 of the 298-seat National Assembly while the NPAD holds 130. Why did the opposition NPAD fare so poorly? Perhaps more importantly, what lessons do the results hold for the NPAD?

 

Hopes dashed?

Notwithstanding the low number of seats, the by-elections appear to favour the NPAD on at least four grounds: first, although this is the first by-election for the newly-elected leader of the opposition, Moon Jae-In, Representative Moon is an old political hand in the opposition, having previously been the 2012 presidential candidate for the then-opposition Democratic United Party. There were hopes that Rep. Moon may be able to draw on or build from his experiences following the presidential election loss to Park in 2012, to unite the party and move it forward. Still, the party leadership-contest divided rather than united the different camps in the NPAD. Although Rep Moon has extended olive branches to the other factions with appointments to high-ranking party positions, the party has so far failed to develop viable policy positions to challenge the ruling party. This failing is not trivial: the NPAD has not been able to achieve public approvals significantly above 20 percent, and this may be the root cause of the NPAD’s poor electoral showing.

Second, the corruption scandal engulfing the country – deceased construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong left a suicide note implicating several prominent politicians as having received bribes, including Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo, President Park’s former chief-of-staffs Kim Ki-choon and Huh Tae-yeol, and current chief-of-staff Lee Byung-kee – ensnared President Park and the ruling Saenuri Party more than the opposition NPAD. Such a scandal should have favoured the NPAD in the election; yet, the results underline that Rep Moon’s message for the election to be a “judgement on a corrupt government” was not sufficient to move voters to the NPAD. Here, again, the outcome directs the NPAD towards the position-strategy of running as a viable governing party, with clear policy-positions, and away from the position-strategy of running only as an opposition.

Third, the one-year anniversary of the Sewol ferry tragedy with more than 300 dead, mostly students, was a painful reminder of the failings of the ruling party that could have diminished support for the ruling Saenuri party. The public’s dissatisfaction and frustration at the lack of progress on investigations or salvage of the ferry has led to demonstrations and fueled criticism even within the ruling party. Under these conditions, the NPAD’s failure to capture the disaffected for the by-election is, again, a clear signal that opposing President Park is not enough to win votes.

Fourth, it is a useful to note that three of the four by-election seats were previously held by leftist party, the Unified Progressive Party, which had been disbanded following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in December that the party was guilty of instigating armed rebellion in the country. That these seats from districts supportive of opposition candidates did not fall to the NPAD is telling: it is a reminder – again – that the public is not just supportive of opposition to the ruling party.

Will the opposition NPAD be viable for the 2016 elections? As discussed previously, it is clear that the headwinds against the opposition must be overcome by clear policies and governance strategies that show that it is more than stonewalling or obstruction.